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Rebecca McDonald

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Rebecca McDonald on ‘What is music and Health?’


Music Ther­a­pist Rebec­ca McDon­ald on ‘What is music and Health?’

My name is Rebec­ca McDon­ald. I’m a music ther­a­pist who is cur­rent­ly liv­ing in Antigo­nish, Nova Sco­tia, but I’m orig­i­nal­ly from Peter­bor­ough, Ontario.

I think when I was think­ing about how to answer this ques­tion, it’s a lot about how I look at what health is. I think in music ther­a­py espe­cial­ly, we’re look­ing at health as not just those spe­cif­ic phys­i­cal things. A lot of it is the social deter­mi­nants of health and peo­ple’s men­tal health, and how that all con­tributes to some­one’s per­son­al health. I think that’s real­ly impor­tant and I think for myself too.

I use music a lot for my own men­tal health and that’s a very com­mon expe­ri­ence for lots of peo­ple. I think for me, music and health are very linked and I think it kind of con­tributes to that look­ing of health, mean­ing the whole person.

Music Ther­a­pist Rebec­ca McDon­ald: On music and health in pal­lia­tive care

Music ther­a­py as a dis­ci­pline, I think is at the inter­sec­tion of music and health, espe­cial­ly where I work in a health­care set­ting. I work in a hos­pi­tal so it’s the use of music in this health­care set­ting. The project that I’m involved in is in an Inpa­tient Pal­lia­tive Care Unit, as well as in an Out­pa­tient Oncol­o­gy Clin­ic, and oth­er areas with­in the hospital.

So this project came about when I was an intern at the same hos­pi­tal in which I cur­rent­ly work and this hos­pi­tal has had music ther­a­pists for over 10 years. This job is only fund­ed by cer­tain units and it came out of see­ing how well music ther­a­py was received at this hos­pi­tal and the need for it, and want­i­ng to expand the pro­gram that was already there. I had a spe­cial inter­est in work­ing in pal­lia­tive care, so I put togeth­er a pilot project for this unit so that we could expand and have some­one who was ded­i­cat­ed to that unit with those patients.

We did the pilot project about a year and a half ago and it was six months. It’s been extend­ed since we were gath­er­ing data and gath­er­ing sur­veys from peo­ple and get­ting peo­ple’s first­hand expe­ri­ence of what the music ther­a­py meant to them, so that we could show peo­ple why it’s a nec­es­sary ser­vice in healthcare.

Music Ther­a­pist Rebec­ca McDon­ald on how ser­vice for music and health are accessed in pal­lia­tive care

A lot of music ther­a­pists oper­ate on a refer­ral basis when they’re respon­si­ble for like a large pop­u­la­tion of patients. Luck­i­ly for me, the posi­tion that I have right now, the unit is small with only six to eight patients at a time.

So, I’m able to offer it (the pro­gram) to every­one and I like being able to do that because then it puts it in the patients hands and they get to decide if they would like to access the ser­vice. And if they want to (access the ser­vice), that’s great, and if they say “no, thank you” then that’s great too. It’s what­ev­er they need.

I go in, intro­duce myself, explain what it is that I do, and leave it with the patient and their fam­i­lies to say if they would like the ser­vice or not. It’s not some­thing extra for which they need to pay.  It’s fund­ed by the hos­pi­tal, so there’s no bur­den of them hav­ing to pay. It’s just anoth­er ser­vice with all of the oth­er things that are offered in the hospital.

Music Ther­a­pist Rebec­ca McDon­ald: On the impacts of music and health

I think, in pal­lia­tive care espe­cial­ly, it is dif­fi­cult to talk about qual­i­ty of life, but I think the music ther­a­py con­tributed to giv­ing these peo­ple what we’d call “a good death”. Where they feel sup­port­ed and have their needs met and they have an experience.

When the health­care sys­tem is very over­bur­dened and the nurs­es are so busy and they have so much on their plate, music ther­a­py is a time when I’m there just for them. It’s just for us to con­nect with music and talk about what they’re feel­ing, and expe­ri­ence the music that they love, and talk about their lives. I got to hear lots of love­ly sto­ries and one of the things that was real­ly great to see, is the way that it helped fam­i­lies con­nect because it can be a real­ly hard thing.

Some­one’s sit­ting with their fam­i­ly mem­ber and it’s very emo­tion­al for days and days, and this gives them some­thing dif­fer­ent over which to con­nect. A lot of rem­i­nisc­ing comes from when one sings a song and they go “oh do you remem­ber when we had that par­ty” for so and so’s anniver­sary, and remem­ber this fun­ny thing hap­pened. They just start to talk about things like that (which bring) relax­ation and that emo­tion­al sup­port to the patient.

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